A civic-spirited developer, an open-minded neighbourhood and a resourceful city councillor have turned an urban dilemma into a remarkable success story.
Three months ago, it looked as if the Red Door Shelter would be forced to close. The building in which it had been a tenant for 33 years was caught in a nasty real estate dispute between two wealthy families. It had been placed under bankruptcy protection. A new developer was eager to build an upscale condominium on the site.
Nobody in Leslieville wanted to see the 106-bed shelter, which serves homeless women and their children, evicted. But it was located on prime property in a desirable neighbourhood. Its lease was slated to end on March 31.
This week there was a breakthrough. To the relief Red Door’s staff and residents and the satisfaction of the 50,000 community members who signed a petition urging the city to save the shelter, the new owner, Harhay Construction, announced it would include the Red Door in its condominium project. “You walk through the (existing) shelter and you see women and young children and it pulls at your heartstrings,” developer Chris Harhay told the Star’s Laurie Monsebraaten. “I’m really excited about giving them much better-quality living conditions.”
Councillor Paula Fletcher, who was instrumental in pulling together the deal that will allow the Red Door to stay at the corner of Queen St. E. and Booth Ave., was elated. “A lot of very positive things came together,” she said.
The first was an upscale neighbourhood that wanted a homeless shelter in a prominent location (not common). The second was a developer who embraced the community’s vision at personal expense (not typical). The third was a city that was willing to provide financial support (not a given in these straitened times).
The new four-floor Red Door shelter will be adjacent to the seven-storey, 188-unit project Harhay plans to build. There will be an outdoor play area, and each family will have a private washroom for the first time. When it is built, ownership will be transferred to the city, preventing a recurrence of what happened last fall.
The loss of the Red Door would have left an enormous hole in Toronto’s shelter system. It represented 13 per cent of the city’s permanent beds for families. In an average year, 500 women and their children – some fleeing domestic violence, some evicted by their landlords, some just-arrived refugees – passed through the Red Door. It had an occupancy rate of 95 to 97 per cent.